Alex Teichman/LinkedIn; Sebastian Thrun/Udacity; Andy Rubin/Reuters; Henrik Dahlkamp/LinkedIn; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
Alex Teichman crawled on the carpet as the dog ran around him. A camera watched them closely nearby.
On the screen of the computer, Teichman’s outline was glaring red, despite him being on all fours like the dog. The pet, though, was a shining green.
It was graduation day from Stanford’s StartX incubator, and Teichman and his cofounder Hendrik Dahlkamp had built a home security system home that can tell the difference between humans, a potential threat, and things like dogs running around a yard.
However, the video of Teichman versus the dog is the last public evidence of a company then-called Snitch. In early 2015, IEEE wrote the only story about what the duo was working on, complete with the video.
Since then, though, buzz has been slowly building around the “well-funded” and “first-rate” mysterious company and its newly discovered ties to major Google alums. With its focus on machine vision and their expertise in self-driving cars, speculation about the project’s potential is growing.
A few recent clues discovered by Business Insider hint at what the tight-lipped startup might be working on.
The mystery of Snitch
Snitch’s founding team is two guys with brilliant minds and backgrounds to match, a pair that many Silicon Valley investors would be delighted to throw money at.
Teichman’s mentor was Sebastian Thrun, the “father of the self-driving car” who founded Google X. At Stanford, Teichman had worked in Thrun’s lab and was the perception lead on Stanford’s self-driving car. His summers were spent interning at famed robotics research lab Willow Garage.
Years before, Teichman had suffered from a nagging worry that his house was going to get burglarized, according to a story in IEEE. He had been receiving random phone calls, and there had been a notice of an uptick of crime in the neighborhood. So he rigged up his own security camera and loaded it with the self-driving technology that he had been working on. He wanted to be able to tell the difference between a tree branch in the wind or a burglar entering the backyard. But nothing came of it since his house wasn’t robbed.
At Stanford, Teichman met his co-founder, Dahlkamp, who also specialized in seeing the world in different ways. He had cofounded the technology behind Google Street View and also went to Stanford to study under Thrun and work on its self-driving car.
The two were at a party together when Dahlkamp brought up the old security system Teichman had built. Only then did Teichman realize it might form the basis of a company.
In October 2014, they incorporated the business. Months later, they graduated from the Stanford StartX labs. And then they all but disappeared.
Business Insider has found a few clues, however.
In November 2015, the pair’s mentor, Thrun, tried to find some new talent for the startup, which he described as “well-funded.”
“I have an amazing job opportunity in Silicon Valley. A small, first-rate, well-funded team is seeking to hire an RGBD perception expert to help build the ‘eyes of the smart home’,” Thrun wrote in a robotics forum. (Interested applicants had to e-mail Edwin Jarvis, a cheeky nod to the AI butler from the “Iron Man” series.)
Also, at some point Teichman posted a plea on 99Designs, a website for freelance logo design, looking for an image to go with the name at the time, Snitch: “I’m building an intelligent home security system that uses a totally new kind of camera and can understand what it’s seeing, rather than just detecting that something changed,” Teichman wrote. “It’s super cool but I can’t draw for s–. Help!”
The winning design, a grey-and-blue camera, can be found on two websites: Kortschak Investments and Playground Global.
Playground Global is run by Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android operating system who left Google in October 2014 to start a hardware incubator. Turns out that Dahlkamp and Teichman have been incubating the company in Rubin’s Playground Global over the last year, according to a job posting from their recruiter Doreen Xia on a computer vision forum.
From Snitch to Lighthouse
Although Playground is a hardware incubator, according to new trademark filings, the young company is now more concerned with software for security cameras — and it has a new name: Lighthouse.
The trademark covers computer software for a range of tasks, from viewing and analyzing video to operating, managing, and monitoring security systems. The trademark covers not only the computer software but also “software as a service”, or a licensing model that would let people subscribe to using the software over time.
Today, Lighthouse’s website only teases something “Coming soon.”
The company declined to talk to Business Insider. Andy Rubin, Playground Global, and Sebastian Thrun didn’t respond to request for comment.
Still, venture capitalists are buzzing about it, wondering if it could dethrone Google’s Nest in the camera market. Since it’s not making its own camera, unlike Nest which acquired Dropcam, it will have a harder time getting its software in the hands of people, one investor speculated.
Others are excited to see the technology behind self-driving cars be applied to other areas beyond the much-hyped automotive space. Lighthouse might be the first breakout company to do it.